Spokane Journal of Business

Women leaders should assess communication habits

Well-meant behaviors sometimes work against those in governing roles

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Women leaders bring tremendous strengths, insight, and value to the workplace. But let’s face it, we still confront a number of barriers.

As a result of centuries of social and cultural programming, seeds individually planted as early as childhood, many of us have developed some behaviors and habits that may not best serve us in the work environment. Let’s explore some of those traits and habits, keeping in mind that we are all different. We all participate in these to greater or lesser degrees, and some of us not at all. Not to be dismissed as stereotypes, these are behaviors that have been observed and documented in the American workplace.

In positioning ourselves for leadership or stepping into a leadership role, it is worth examining our own habits to determine if some of those habits may be working against us. After researching a variety of problematic behaviors, I’ve narrowed it down to five that appear to be the most common pitfalls. Let’s take a look at how they show up and what we might be able to do differently to reflect strength and authenticity in our leadership style.

Communicating indirectly: One of the most common offenders is a tendency to use what are called “softening devices.” We hedge our communication by starting our emails with words like “just” and questioning phrases such as “Hey, when you get a chance … .” The problem with this type of communication is that it lacks assertiveness and authority, diminishing its effectiveness. Often, this leads us to having to send a second email or make a follow-up phone call that could have been avoided had the initial communication been more direct.

•Instead, drop the softening words. Drop the questions. Make a polite but firm request. It is important to have a sense of the communication styles of those you work with, so tailor it accordingly but practice what Arianna Huffington calls “compassionate directness.” You will find it yields better results.

Downplaying achievements: Wo–men in particular have discomfort surrounding what we may view as self-promotion. We believe our accomplishments and hard work should speak for itself. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if it always worked that way? We say things like “Oh it was fun” or “It was no big deal.” The issue with presenting your achievements in this way is it devalues those achievements. It then makes our actual role in the project or contribution unclear.

•Instead, take pride in your achievements. This doesn’t mean being boastful or obnoxious; give yourself permission to be proud of an accomplishment. Taking a moment to be proud goes a long way in helping us stay motivated to take on the next challenge. It is critical to recognize others’ contributions, but be sure to paint an accurate picture. Be specific and direct about your role. Look at it as if you were in a position to hire someone, wouldn’t you want clear, unambiguous information?

Perfectionism addiction: Many of us seek to attain perfection in all that we do. But at what cost? Perfectionism is ultimately about control, and when we fall short, we feel powerless. That can be a disheartening cycle.

•Instead, strive for excellence but let go of the attachment to perfection. The Greek translation for perfection is “complete”. So, we may be better served to do it right, be complete, and release ourselves from the excess pressure.

Too many apologies: How many times does the word “sorry” pass you lips in a given day? Are you apologizing for things that are completely out of your control? Many of us inadvertently use an apology as a conversational ritual, to help build rapport. Excessive and unnecessary apologies do not support a perception of strength which can lead to limited opportunity and influence.

•Instead, there are other much more effective ways to build rapport. Wholeheartedly apologize and take responsibility when you make a mistake but let the recognition and changed behavior do the talking.

Body language: One of the behaviors many women slip into is delivering nonverbal communication that doesn’t support a position of strength and confidence. Arms folded, avoiding eye contact, taking a seat in the corner of the boardroom. You may have brilliant input and tremendous knowledge of your subject, but if your body language says otherwise, body language wins every time.

•Instead, internal perspective and external body language need to be in alignment for your words to come across with strength and credibility. Use strong eye contact, (all non-verbal communication varies within the context of cultural influences), keep shoulders back, speak with conviction, and take your rightful seat at the table. Use your physical presence to support your brilliance. The messaging will come across much more powerfully.

Each individual’s journey to leadership is a unique experience. We may or may not be tripping ourselves up by participating in these particular behaviors. The important action is to develop a leadership style that is authentic and uniquely yours.

René Johnston, of Spokane, owns Employee Engagement Solutions, a consulting and employee-engagement training company.

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